New Glass, and old

Mirrorless cameras, especially those with a focussing aid called ‘focus peaking’ are the perfect match for vintage manual focus lenses.  These old optics are in plentiful supply at camera markets and online auction sites, and they are often very favourably priced.

They fit to the camera using a custom adapter, which provides the correct spacing from the rear element to the focal plane.

The lenses operate in something that’s frequently called stop down mode, which is where the lens aperture is set to the desired setting and the metering is done directly through the lens with the iris closed down.  With DSLRs this is often done in Live View as the LCD compensate for the dim aperture and you see an exposure simulated image.  It is possible to focus manually (as it always has been with traditional SLR’s, however you can zoom in using the LCD to get more accuracy.

With Mirrorless cameras which have ‘focus peaking’ this is even easier. This feature outlines in focus details with a bright colour making lcd or evf focussing convenient and easy.

This all means that anyone with a Mirrorless camera has the opportunity to use almost any lens that’s ever been produced, and there have been some superb lenses produced over the years.

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Carl Zeiss Flektogon 20mm f/4.0

This is a nice example of a Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 20mm f/4.0 ‘Zebra’ that I picked up from a local camera market.  It’s a big lens, and dwarfs the EOS M3 when fitted, but is nice and sharp, as one would expect from Zeiss.

Not all ‘vintage’ lenses are old though.  They are still being manufactured, and below is another nice example of a manual focus classic lens.

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Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f/1.4

This Voigtlander optic is a currently manufactured model, and comes in a Leica M Bayonet mount.  These lenses have a couple of advantages for compact system cameras.  They are compact lenses, and the adapters are slim due to the lens design, so they fit more like a native lens.

This particular range of lenses by Voigtlander are a perfect fit for these small mirrorless bodies, and this 35mm lens has a superbly fast maximum aperture of f/1.4 for very out of focus backgrounds and bokeh.

My camera is APS-C so I have to multiply the focal length by 1.6 to arrive at the effective focal length.  The Voigtlander is equivalent to a 56mm, a nice standard lens, and the Carl Zeiss 20mm works out to 32mm – good for Landscapes and Street photography.

Sure, autofocus is convenient, and the native lenses for this camera deliver great results, but there’s something to be said for manual focus.  It slows you down, which needn’t be a compromise, it just leads to a more considered application of technique and makes you think about the image making process.  Most of these classic lenses are are also fixed focal length Prime lenses, which more often than not tend to deliver better optical performance, and also provide the restriction of not being able to zoom, which makes you work harder for your images.

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